Rainstorm damage is widespread in Maple Lake

A little water never hurt anybody.  A lot of water can be devastating.

Last week’s rainstorm caused such devastation, primarily in the southern portion of Wright County. But the reported rainfall totals of up to 8 inches that fell in and around Maple Lake flooded basements, washed out roads, destroyed crops and even caused landslides of dangerous proportions.

The Curt and Catherine Nordlie home at 720 Fourth Street West in Maple Lake was the site of an intense effort on the part of city maintenance staff and firefighters during the June 24 storm to save the home from a sewage backup caused when the huge amount of water flooded sewer lift stations.

“At about 10:30 p.m. it just started gushing in,” Catherine Nordlie said. “We held a five gallon bucket under the lid of the toilet and filled it up in 30 seconds.”  It wasn’t long afterward that help arrived, with firefighters and city staff hauling out 16 gallon containers of collected sewage or helping to sweep water out of the basement. “We opened the door and it flowed out like a river,” Nordlie said.

At about 1 a.m., the sewer backup subsided, but the hard work was just beginning. The Nordlie’s finished basement contained a family room and bedrooms for the two youngest sons. Clothing and personal items that came in contact with the water were discarded, along with a couch, beds and other furniture. The carpet was ripped out, linoleum was scraped up, and the bottom two feet of wallboard was cut out of every basement wall.

Unfortunately, such a disaster was nothing new to the Nordlies.  “The same thing happened to us in 1991,” Nordlie said of the first time the city sewer system backed up into their home. “But this time, it was worse.”

And she added that without the assistance the family received in the middle of the night, the flooding would have been much worse. “It would have been waist-high in here if we wouldn’t have bailed,” Nordlie said. “I don’t know who called the firefighters, but they showed up and we were thankful.”

Farms suffer losses:  Those instant ponds and lakes in farm fields were an amazing sight, but the result for local farmers will be lost crops.

Mary Anderson from the Minnesota Extension Service said drowned out acreage isn’t the only problem. “There was also significant erosion,” she said. “There’s a lot of Wright County that’s going to be in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a pretty significant loss for agriculture and Wright County.”

Anderson said a week of heavy rain before June 24 compounded the problem. “The first rain went into the soil,” she said. “Because the ground was so saturated, it just couldn’t deal with any more.”

In addition to damage to row crops, Anderson noted that the wet June prevented many farmers from putting up their first alfalfa crop. “For those who couldn’t get their first crop harvested, the second crop is growing up through it. It’s just been a challenge putting up good quality alfalfa.”

Kevin Bergquist, Wright County executive director of the USDA Farm Services Agency, said devising rough estimates of the damage to farm fields are all they can do right now. “It’s a muddy picture, no pun intended,” he said. “For some, this has been devastating, for others, just a nuisance.”

Bergquist said current estimates are that the combination of rain and hail destroyed about 10 percent of the acreage in the southern two-thirds of Wright County.  And survival depends on the crop.  “Soybeans will last about a day under water,” Berquist said. “If they’re submerged for longer than that, they’re done. Corn is a little different. It might last a couple, three days in some instances. But if it’s still under water now, it’s done.”

Sod farm suffers heavy hit:  The Carlson Sod fields west of Maple Lake on Highway 55 have been under water since the June 24 storm, and that spells doom for 60 acres of sod that were just about ready to cut.

Jennifer Carlson said the company has four locations for its sod fields, with the Highway 55 site as the most visible and the location which suffered the most damage. “Basically, we lost all of it because it’s been sitting under water for too long,” she said. Of the 200 Carlson Sod acres, Carlson said probably close to two-thirds will be a total loss.

Carlson said they have made arrangements to purchase sod from another company for installation orders. “I’ve been telling people it’s the only way we can keep our heads above water,” she said.

The trouble for Carlson Sod started on June 21, when two to three inches of rain fell in the Maple Lake area. Carlson said that rain drained fairly quickly, but the saturated fields turned the June 24 rain into a crop killer. “The fields were flooded at least four feet deep,” she said. “It was over the roads and our pallets were floating around. We’re still looking for pallets.”

And unlike farm fields of corn or soybeans that yield a crop every year, Carlson said that sod farms only get three crops every five years, so she said it would be about two years before a crop can be harvested from the Highway 55 location. “This was looking like one of our best years,” she said. “And losing it is going to hurt us for a long time.”

Roads turn into waterfalls:  Keeping roads open and repairing the damage has been a big and expensive task for both the county and its townships.  In Maple Lake Township, board chair Leland Schut said this was the worst road situation in his over 20 years of service on the town board. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.    Of the roads that were closed or restricted last week, only two are still problem spots. Schut said Emerson Avenue will likely be closed for several more weeks. “It’s where Mill Creek runs out of Ramsey and it took the road out with it,” he said. “There’s still too much water going through yet.”

Schut said that Dillon Avenue, which was closed all last week, is now passable as a one-lane road after repairs to considerable erosion caused by a roaring waterfall that nearly turned the road into a scenic attraction. “We were going to charge admission,” Schut laughed. “It was our Niagara Falls.”

The price tag for the repairs to local roads is going to be expensive, with Schut estimating that Maple Lake Township’s bill alone would come to about $150,000. He said bills for storm expenses will be turned into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In the meantime, work will continue on local roads. “We’ve replaced three culverts and have a few to do,” Schut said. “But we’re in fairly good shape right now.”

Believe it or not:   In the strange but true category, the storm created a couple of instances of amazing mischief.  One was the rearrangement of a bit of scenery on Jude Lake, which sits just east of Maple Lake off of Highway 55.

From the highway, what was once a view of water to the south is now a forest scene after a bog of 50 to 100 Tamarack trees broke loose from the southeast corner of the lake and came to rest at the north end of Jude Lake.

Jude Lake resident Steve Loch estimated that the traveling bog is from 150 to 200 yards long and 75 yards wide. “When that lake water came up about two or three feet, that whole thing became a floating boat,” he said.

Loch said the shallow root system of the Tamaracks forms the framework for the floating island. “Those trees acted like a sail,” he said, noting that the repositioning of the bog has altered the position of his home on the lake. “Now I’m at the north end of the lake and the other end got 10 percent bigger.  “If we get a good wind from the northwest, I expect it to go back,” he said. “But if we don’t get a wind and the water drops, it’s going to be there forever.”

At Albion Ridges Golf Course, an old adage was proved wrong because lightning apparently does strike twice in the same place.  The golf course recorded three lightning strikes during the June 24 storm, with all three of them on the Granite course and two of them located on the fourth hole only about four or five feet apart. “I have never seen that before,” said course owner Dennis Olson. “It must have been all that water running everywhere.”

All that water made things interesting for golfers at Albion Ridges, creating new water hazards and coating grass in some areas with a layer of mud. But Olson said the course will be back in shape early this week. “The problem was that a drain tile was plugged,” Olson said, noting the course manager Cal Froehlich put on scuba gear to get the plug out of the tile. “We tied a rope to him so he wouldn’t get sucked in,” Olson said of the unusual effort that likely wasn’t in Froehlich’s job description.

Landslide turns hill into cliff:   Bob and Ruth Glenn, of 4588 Fillmore Avenue, lost a hill and gained a cliff with a 30-foot drop when the rainfall caused a mudslide into Ramsey Lake.  “We’re still in shock over this,” Bob Glenn said. “You lose your hill and have a 30-foot cliff overnight and it’s just devastating.”

Glenn said unblended fill from the construction of his house years ago combined with a septic system that never let the hill dry out made it susceptible to the huge June 24 rainfall. “After years and years of being wet, it just sheared away,” he said.

Three other Ramsey Lake homes suffered lake-side erosion, though not to the extent of the Glenns, in addition to several on Maple Lake. And how to save the rest of their property and their houses from meeting the same fate during the next big storm is a question as yet without an answer.

“Our neighbor to the south has called a few engineers to see what we can do,” Glenn said. “They want $1,200 just to come out to the property and take a look at it.”  There’s no insurance coverage on a hillside, nor will there be for the substantial losses the Glenns suffered when their basement flooded. “I was in the basement at about 8:30 that night and it was bone-dry,” Glenn said. “When I went back down at about 10 p.m., there were four inches of water throughout the entire basement.”

New carpeting was laid less than two weeks earlier as part of a $45,000 remodeling project that was nearing completion. “After all the stuff that we did, now I have to rip out a lot of it,” Glenn said.   “We’re just in a world of hurt and I just don’t know what to do next. But I can’t cry about it. We just need to get it taken care of.”

Glenn said the best hope for help in coping with storm damage would be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which can offer assistance to people who sustained uninsured losses due to the flooding. To access that assistance, Wright County must first be declared a Disaster Area and an effort is underway by Wright County Emergency Management Coordinator Genelle Reese to do just that.  Reese said that the declaration of a disaster area will definitely come, given the fact that county losses are already estimated to be above the threshold set by FEMA.

Area residents who have suffered flood damage and are seeking assistance should contact their city and township offices. For shelter or other types of assistance, the headquarters for the county disaster relief effort is St. James Lutheran Church, 1000 6th Ave. in Howard Lake, or call 320-543-2630. Information about assistance can be obtained from Wright County Financial Services and Public Health, 1-800-362-3667; Wright County Community Action, 320-963-6500; Catholic Charities, 1-888-273-0445, Salvation Army Wright County Chapter, 763-682-7523; and the Wright County Chapter of the Red Cross, 763-684-0068.

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